Deuteronomy 20
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Laws of Warfare

1“When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. 2When you approach the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people, 3and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel: you are advancing today to battle against your enemies. Do not lack courage. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble [in terror] before them, 4for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ 5The officers shall also speak to the [a]soldiers, saying, ‘What man is there who has built a new house and has not yet [b]dedicated it? [c]Let him go and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it. 6What man has planted a vineyard and has not put it to use [harvesting its fruit]? Let him go and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use its fruit. 7And who is the man who is engaged (legally promised) to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.’ 8Then the officers shall speak further to the soldiers and say, ‘Who is the man who is afraid and lacks courage? Let him go and return to his house, so that he does not cause his brothers’ courage to fail like his own.’ 9And it shall be when the officers have finished speaking to the soldiers, they shall appoint commanders of armies over them.

10“When you advance to a city to fight against it, you shall [first] offer it terms of peace. 11If that city accepts your terms of peace and opens its gates to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall lay siege to it. 13When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike down all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14Only the women and the children and the animals and everything that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. 15That is what you shall do to all the cities that are very far away from you, which are not among the cities of these nations nearby [which you are to dispossess]. 16Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18so that they will not teach you to act in accordance with all the detestable practices which they have done [in worship and service] for their gods, and in this way cause you to sin against the LORD your God.

19“When you besiege a city for [d]a long time, making war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its [fruit-bearing] trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged (destroyed) by you? 20Only the trees which you know are not [e]fruit trees shall you destroy and cut down, so that you may build [f]siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

[a] 5 Lit people and so throughout.
[b] 5 I.e. to the temple. The rabbis said that ownership of a house was required for dedication. Here, dedication seems to have established ownership when the original owner died.
[c] 5 The point of the admonitions in vv 5-8 is that with the Lord’s help, Israel would have no need of a large military force, and the officers could afford to dismiss anyone who was not completely prepared for battle.
[d] 19 Lit many days.
[e] 20 Lit trees for eating.
[f] 20 I.e. battering rams, ladders, towers, etc.

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